There has been considerable debate recently about President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) eligibility to stand for a third term as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman.
Many of his supporters within the party say this is an “in-house affair.” Former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), for example, has said that a party’s right to decide its own personnel matters should be acknowledged and that the matter was an internal one so people should respect the KMT’s autonomy. All the party needs is consensus within its own ranks, Wu said.
Domestic violence used to be regarded as a private matter concerning the head of the household, but nowadays it is legally regarded as a matter of public concern, open to the scrutiny of the state.
One wonders why the internal affairs of a national political party, which directly impact the operation of democracy within the country, should be any different. Ma’s eligibility to stand for a third term as party chairman is not simply a matter of internal housekeeping for the KMT.
The experience of most democratic countries has shown that, in a sense, democratic politics is party politics.
Within the democratic process political parties are accorded certain special rights, such as being able to nominate candidates for positions at each level of government, to receive party votes in the split vote system and receiving state fund subsidies.
However, with these special rights come responsibilities: the consolidation of the nation’s democratic order through the mechanisms of competing policy manifestos and the transfer of power between parties, all of which are aimed at achieving the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. If a party is happy to accept these special rights, but refuses to carry out its responsibilities, then the country’s democratic order is placed in jeopardy.
If political parties are to carry out their duties to the fullest, it is of paramount importance that they also undertake to run their internal affairs in a way that complies with democratic principles.
In the 1930s Germany came under the control of the Third Reich, the totalitarian Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler, bringing an unprecedented disaster for not just Germany but much of the rest of the world.
After the end of World War II, the new West German government approved the Grundgesetz fur die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the constitution of Germany, first of the Federal Republic, then all of West Germany and ultimately all of post-reunification Germany.
The constitution specified that all political parties’ internal organization must conform to democratic principles, and that all political parties must publicly account for their assets and the sources and uses of their funds.
It also states that “Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.”
Germany’s example is something that we can learn from in our as yet unfinished democratic transition project.
It is generally known that the KMT is based on the Leninist model, as is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China. The party’s internal organization has never complied with democratic principles, as an inevitable result of its very nature.